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"I may not know how to fly but I know how to read and that's almost the same thing."-- Gregory Maguire, Out of Oz

"...while finding true love was one of the most splendid things that could happen to you in life, finding a friend was equally splendid." -- Felix J Palma, The Map of the Sky

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Orphan in Literature

I've been having trouble focusing, having trouble reading. I took a step back, and decided to relax with some old friends. Which led me to pick up a Harry Potter book and subsequently to a decision and a breakthrough. The decision of course, was if I was reading the series again for the umpteenth time, I really ought to come up with some kick ass reasons as to why the story is so good. The breakthrough, came when thinking about things that make HP standout. One of the things, isn't how it's different, it's how it's alike.

I want to examine (or ramble about) patterns. The most common theme in young adult media is a protagonist from a broken home. It occurs in Harry Potter, but if you're a movie fan, maybe you notice that Disney built its entire franchise upon this idea. Neglected, belittled, abandoned, or orphaned, children from broken homes tend to do really well in mainstream media. Even if an individual observer comes from a loving family, these stories of the lonely child remain appealing. Why is that?

While the character experiences literal loneliness, we the audience see something more primal, like the fear of darkness. We humans are social animals, and as social animals, we fear being alone. No matter our age, social or financial status, all of us have been made to feel alone at some point. All of us have understood, briefly or otherwise, what it means to feel small.

It isn't a pleasant moment, to stand before a villain and realize you don't know what the right thing to do is; that moment insecurity raises its ugly head and stills any response. Maybe your stomach twists, maybe your heart pounds, maybe you want to lash out or just run and hide... But there you stand. Later you'll ask yourself, "What could I have done differently? What could I have said?"  It won't matter to anyone but you, and it doesn't matter in the grand scheme because you can't go back... Or maybe you reacted. Quickly without fail, fearlessly without stutter. Maybe you said or did something, and later were left to second guess whether or not it was right. It stays with you: that moment you stood alone in the face of adversity and were forced to make a choice between passivity and aggression. A feeling of helplessness.

So maybe in this pattern, we see a fear personified. A child, alone and vulnerable, filled with the naivete that comes with youth. They're alone in this; you know it and they know it. Even surrounded by friends, the protagonist carries the weight of the world on his or her shoulders... And in this fearful moment we are given hope and comfort. Because while the child is small, the actions are big, the friends true, the consequences epic and bright. In this pattern we see that no matter how small you feel, no matter how weak the world tells you you are, you do matter. You can stand up, you can speak up, you can make a difference.

The only thing bigger than our fear of vulnerability, is our desire to matter in life. And if a child from meager beginnings can conquer his fears, why can't an adult from better beginnings do the same? Maybe we're all alone in this, but sometimes it's nice to think we're all alone in this together.

2 comments:

  1. This is a very thoughtful, well put together post. I'm a huge HP fan and I never thought about this, but it's so true! I think that the whole orphan-thing can be done well, but I feel like a lot of YA books really need to add more of regular, healthy families. Those kids are interesting too! But in all seriousness, this theme of being alone is quite true. Even if we're facing terrible life circumstances, if we're not alone, what have we to fear?

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    1. I too think it's strange that so few regular kids strike out on an adventure or quest; who hasn't thought about leaving behind normalcy for something more fulfilling?

      Thanks for stopping by!

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